Have you ever felt like your marriage was in a rut? Same thing day after day? If so, let me share one of my favorite ways of giving my marriage a boost, of reigniting that spark of excitement and love. Oh…and it’s not just my idea. In a survey of 1,000 people, 84% of the respondents agreed that this activity strengthened their relationship. If you want to give your marriage a boost, take a road trip together. That’s right, take a trip together, near or far. Enjoy traveling with one another. You can turn up your favorite music and celebrate, or you can quietly take in the sights. In fact, on a road trip you’ll have time for both. And the whole time you can talk, catch up, and dream about the future or reminisce about the past. Sure, you might experience a few moments of frustration and disagreement, but you’ll have plenty of time to “work it out” and enjoy making up. As this year comes to an end, give your marriage a boost by taking a road trip or two.
Archive for December 30, 2023
Depression in the United States is on the rise. Consider these statistics: depression for adults between 18-years-old and 29-years-old is up 13.9 percentage points (from 20.4% in 2017 to 34.3% in 2023). During the same time period, depression among those between 30-years-old and 44-years-old rose 12.6 percentage points (from 22.3% to 34.9%). The rate of depression in youth has also increased 24% between 2016 and 2019. Most recently, 11.5% of youth reported severe major depression in 2023. Depression has increased dramatically in our society. (For more on this see U.S. Depression Rates Reach New Highs (gallup.com) and The State of Pediatric Mental Health in America 2023 Report – Office Practicum.)
Fortunately, you can help cut the risk of depression in half for your family members by practicing a few habits in your home. Specifically, research suggests that practicing five or more of these seven habits can cut the risk of depression in half. Don’t limit yourself to five though. You can build all seven into your family lifestyle, protecting your family from depression. Here are the seven habits.
- Develop healthy, age-appropriate sleep habits. Getting a good night’s rest reduces the risk of depression. It also reduces the risk of suicide. So, create a positive bedtime routine and encourage everyone to get their eight hours.
- Exercise. Physical activity has been shown to be as effective as medication for many in managing and reducing depression. You can go for a walk, ride your bike, run, play a sport, swim… The options are countless. The goal is to get moving. Exercise and reduce your risk of depression.
- Maintain a healthy diet. Eat those fruits and vegetables to fight depression. A healthy balanced diet helps to stabilize our mood and protects us from depression. Along those same lines…
- Limit alcohol consumption. Alcohol is a depressant. It slows brain activity. People who drink more than the recommended amount of alcohol (more than two drinks a day for men or one drink a day for women) increase their risk of depression.
- Stop smoking. Smoking increases the risk of depression. The more a person smokes, the higher the risk of depression. Smoking cessation decreases the risk of depression and the longer the duration of not smoking, the lower the risk of depression.
- Get away from the screen. Put down the technology and get moving. Long periods of sedentary behavior represent an increased risk for depression. Instead of binge watching your favorite series, “go old school” and watch one episode a week. If you don’t want to “go totally old school,” watch one episode a day. The goal is to get up and get moving every day to avoid sedentary behavior. In addition, get off social media and socialize face-to-face more often…which leads to our last daily habit to decrease the risk of depression.
- Cultivate friendships and social connections. Hobbies and activities with those who share your interests will create an excellent opportunity to build social connections. Engaging in hobbies and activities that we enjoy, especially with other people, boosts our mood. It increases our sense of well-being and increases our life satisfaction. It decreases depression.
Know what I like about these seven habits? They are good, healthy habits for everyone. They represent a lifestyle of wellness that will benefit all of us. Cutting the risk of depression does not demand we do something extraordinary. It simply means we live a healthy lifestyle and promote a healthy lifestyle in our families. Make it a point to do so this year.
Do you know what I miss? I miss those simple Christmas holidays of childhood. Remember those? We sang Christmas carols and even went “caroling” in the community. We enjoyed the magic of “good ole St. Nick” somehow bringing gifts to everyone in a single night. And we experienced the joy of watching someone’s face light up when WE gave them a gift. I also remember the hugs… oh the hugs. We were engulfed in hugs. And the laughter that rang out throughout the season. In the midst of all these activities, a nativity scene adorned the table and filled my mind with wonder. I often pondered, “All this for a baby born so long ago in a town so far away?”
As I grew, the very tangible hope and joy of the Christmas celebration remained with me. Sometimes I still look at that little Baby, his parents, the shepherds, an angel, and the wise men (yes, they were always at the nativity scene early) and just wonder, ponder the mystery of it all. The hymns and songs and laughter and gifts and food and family are all still there, but I miss the innocence of those childhood Christmases.
I’m not sure the world was any better “back then.” There were wars and protests on the news every night (the Vietnam war and the Cuba Missile Crisis, for example). Leaders were assassinated (MLK & JFK). The end of time was near (or so many “prophets” proclaimed). Nuclear threat loomed as we practiced “what to do” in case of nuclear disaster and watched movies about the fallout of nuclear disaster. Pundits predicted overpopulation and famine as imminent threats. Still, in the midst of it all, there I was with many other young boys and girls, celebrating the magic and mystery of a joyous Christmas.
It reminds me of Jesus’ words. “Unless you become as a little child, you will never enter the Kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself [accepting their lack of knowledge and wondering at mysteries beyond our wildest imaginations] like a child is the greatest in the Kingdom of heaven!” This year, I’m choosing to return to “become as a child.” I’m choosing to return to the childhood Christmases I miss, the Christmases of innocence and wonder. How?
First, I’m going to look afresh, with the eyes of a child, at the Child in the manger. I’m going to consider with wonder the amazing gift we’ve been given. I think I’ll listen to Handel’s Messiah: “For unto us a Child a given, unto us a Son is born….” I’ll ponder the marvel at the “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace” all wrapped up in that little Baby lying in a manger. What an amazing love to give up the glories of heaven to take the form of a Baby born in an occupied country to a poor family.
Second, in celebration of that great gift, I will give gifts. The gift of the Child in the manger is so astoundingly generous that I will strive to give generously in return. And I’m going to start with giving of myself, just like that Child in the manger “gave Himself” for us. I’m going to give myself to my family and friends in service. I’ll give my ear to listen. I’ll give my hands to serve and my mouth to encourage. I’ll celebrate by giving myself to others in love.
Third, I’m sharing hugs this year. If you’re around, I might just hug you. It’s Christmas. Jesus spent His life touching others (both metaphorically and literally). I think I’ll do the same. Instead of simply being engulfed in hugs, I might give a hug or two…or three or four. I might even engulf a few people in hugs. After all, we need hugs to thrive.
Fourth, I’m going to sing. I’m singing in the shower, in the car, in my home, with my family, with my friends…. I’m singing all the songs I loved as a child and still do as an adult. Maybe others will join in, and we can sing together. There truly is something about singing that brings people together. It brings us in sync. So I’m singing with everyone who will sing with me.
Know what else, I think I’ll put out some cookies for Santa Claus again this year. We actually put out pizza. We haven’t done it since our children left home for college…but I’m doing it this year. I’m going to enjoy the magic of a mysterious guy dressed in red bringing gifts in the middle of the night. Who knows, while I wait I might “see Mommy kissing Santa Claus.” I might also see a star that shines in the East announcing a new King rising in our hearts.
Will you celebrate the innocence of a childhood Christmas with me this year?
Our world is a place divided. Wars and battles rage between countries, ethnicities, people with any differences. The actions of a small band of people get thrust upon the whole body of people as we generalize our hate with no consideration for context, no compassion for pain, no love for the misguided. People pick sides. Our cup brims with division and hate.
We think we understand and have the right answers. We trust our finite, limited wisdom thinking we have complete answers, but I fear we don’t. Making an idol of our finite understanding, we cling to our ideologies and cast out (dare I say castigate on social media sites) those who think differently than “our perfect and complete way.” As a result, we remain divided and scattered. In our arrogance, we never find the Truth. Putting to shame the counsel of the afflicted, frustrating the plans of the poor, we oppress or become oppressed, forgetting that the Lord is the refuge of the afflicted (Psalm 14:6). In all our efforts to form and protect “my group” and “my way of life,” we end up living in isolated enclaves, casting out those who “don’t belong” or finding ourselves cast out as the one who doesn’t belong.
Things weren’t all that different on that first Christmas. There were wars and battles. There were those oppressed and those oppressing, those who had space and those for whom there “was no room in the inn.” There were those who protected “my way of life” at the expense of others. Those arrogant enough to believe they alone had the right to determine the answers were sometimes even willing to kill to support their cause (consider Herod having the children killed).
But, in the midst of this chaos, a light shines in the darkness. A man and his wife lovingly sit in a crude setting to adore their newborn Baby Boy lying in a feeding trough. Angel choirs sing a song of celebration, announcing glad tidings of peace to a group of shepherds. In turn, the shepherds run to see if such “glad tidings of peace on earth, good will to men” could be true. They fall in worship before the newborn Babe. At the same time, a shining star catches the attention of some astrologers, leading the Magi with gifts from afar. They too come to worship and adore the Child. Rich and poor, people born in the land and people from a distant land, scholars and laborers all join together before Jesus for one purpose—to adore, to worship, to celebrate. They come in peace to celebrate Emmanuel, the Bringer of Peace. I believe they leave changed people—a little more aware of those around them, a little more kind and compassionate, a little more loving—filled with anticipation of a coming Kingdom lead by the law of love.
This Baby grew into a Man who wept as He looked toward the place of His final destination and said, “If you had known in this day, even you, the things which make for peace! But now they have been hidden from your eyes.” As children in the crowd continued to praise Him with words of “Hosanna to the Son of David,” the religious leaders asked Him to quiet the children. But He said, “Out of the mouth of infants and nursing babes you have prepared praise for Yourself.” Out of the weakest in the society came forth the truth which could lead to peace, the truth that pointed to the only way of peace…the gift of a Son, a Child, the Prince of Peace.
Today, as I contemplated the Prince of Peace and our seeming blindness to His gift, I heard a hymn sung by people who some would wrongly think to be the least powerful in their world. (In fact, they may be some of the strongest people as they remain steadfast in seeking the will of God for their lives in the midst of unjust vilification, great loss, and immense pain.) In this hymn I hear “living stones” cry out. I hear them proclaim a truth born “on the night of Christmas.” “On the night of Christmas, hatred will vanish…the earth blooms…war is buried…Love is born.” I hear the proclamation that as we live a life made possible by the Child born on Christmas, we will more fully realize His kingdom of peace. “When we offer a glass of water to a thirsty person…when we clothe a naked person with a gown of love…when we wipe tears from weeping eyes…when we cushion a hopeless heart with love…” we live out the Christmas message. Peace will grow exponentially when in response to the message of Christmas “I kiss a friend without hypocrisy…when the spirit of revenge dies in me…when hardness is gone from my heart…when my soul melts in the being of God” and “I am in Christmas.” This Christmas let us be “in Christmas.” Let us turn toward the manger and bow in humble adoration and submission before the Baby Jesus, Emmanuel, God with us. With His light before us and His Spirit within us, let us seek peace and pursue it.
Have you ever felt like an imperfect parent? Maybe even a failure? I know the feeling. I have. But I also have good news. Our children are wise, even from a young age. They don’t need perfect parents. They need parents with a sincere intent to love. To better understand this, imagine a scenario with me.
An adult sits down to show a 24-month-old toddler a toy car. The adult pushes the car until it bumps into a tiny block to the right of the toddler. Nothing happens. Then he pushes the toy car into a block on the toddler’s left. The toy car lights up. The toddler watches as the adult rolls the car back and forth, bumping into the block to the right where nothing happens and the block to the left, where the car lights up. Then he turns the car over to the toddler. The toddler plays with the car but only bumps it into the block on the left, causing the toy car to light up. The toddler only initiates the behavior with the interesting result.
Now imagine an 18-month-old watching a person whose arms are wrapped up in a blanket. The person whose arms are wrapped up is trying to make a box light up, but they can’t move their arms. So, they tap the box with their head and so succeed in lighting up the box. The 18-month-old toddler, whose hands are free, simply reaches out and touches the box with his hand to make it light up. The toddler looked beyond the mere action of the person who “used their head.” He assessed the goal of turning on the light, considered the person’s limitations (arms wrapped up), and then chose the most efficient way to achieve the same end. Our children are wise. (These studies are described in The Gardner and the Carpenter by Alison Gopnick, pages 97-101).
All in all, children are geniuses. They don’t just mimic another person’s behavior. They look beyond the outward appearance of a behavior to assess the intent of the behavior, the goal of the action. They recognize what the person is trying to accomplish and determine the most efficient way to achieve it.
What does this have to do with being an imperfect parent? Our children can look beyond our imperfections and shortcomings to see our deeper intent, our true goals. Our every action does not need to be perfect. Our words and our responses can fall short as long as our motives and intents are sincere and virtuous. Our children will look past our imperfections to see our love, our loving goal for them to become mature, responsible people.
So rather than asking if our every parental action is perfect (because they aren’t and never will be), we need to ask if the intent of our actions and the aim of our behavior are loving and virtuous. We need to ask ourselves:
- Are we responding to our children from a place of sincere love? Can they see the delight that we have for them in our eyes?
- Our children’s misbehavior often leads to frustration. Even when frustrated over misbehavior, do we strive to let our discipline flow from a place of grace and love, a desire to teach our children correct behavior versus punishing poor behavior?
- Watching our children grow and take risks (even the risk of leaving for college) can arouse our fears. Do we let our fears control us or do we continue to act from a place of kindness, vulnerability, and truth? (It is vulnerable to express our fears in a healthy manner.)
- When our children excitedly tell us about their passions, do we patiently listen from a place of genuine interest or a half-hearted effort to pacify?
- Do we make it our goal to consistently treat our children with the respect we expect them to show toward us or do we disrespectfully “bark out orders” and ignore their concerns?
We will make mistakes. We are imperfect. But when we approach our children and interact from a place of respect, patience, kindness, and love, our children will look beyond our mistakes and act upon our true intent. They will respond, in the long run, to our love.
Every parent wants their children to succeed. But is that a wise desire? A healthy desire? Don’t get me wrong. Our children need a certain level of achievement so they can make a meaningful contribution to the world around them. But an overemphasis on achievement becomes toxic. In fact, the pressure for academic and career success has become toxic in our society. One survey found that 70% of 28- to- 30-year-olds believed their parents “valued and appreciated” them more if they succeeded in school. A full 50% believed their parents loved them more if they were successful. Those statistics reveal achievement gone awry, an achievement toxic to our children’s health.
In fact, a report from the experts at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and a report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine have added “excessive pressure to excel” and “youth in high-achieving schools” to the list of “at-risk youth.” They rank the overemphasis of achievement in our society to be as detrimental to a child’s healthy emotional and mental health as poverty, trauma, discrimination, and parental incarceration. (Learn more in Why Achievement Culture Has Become So Toxic.)
Why has achievement become so toxic? Probably a number of factors contribute, including parents’ legitimate concern for their child’s future. Let’s face it, we (parents) fear for our children’s future economic and reputational future. Society tells us that our children’s future security is based on success in academics, extracurricular activities, and careers. But all the academic, sport, or career achievement does not necessarily bring success in adulthood. And it definitely does not result in happiness or well-being in life. In fact, an overemphasis on achievement increases stress, anxiety, and depression, placing our children in the “at-risk group” for emotional challenges.
What can a parent do to counteract society’s push for overachievement? First, make sure your children know they matter to you and others. As many as one third of adolescents in the U.S. believe (dare I say, “fear”) they do not matter to the people in their communities. They don’t feel heard, celebrated, or delighted in. They fear no one cares enough about them to check in on them when they are sick or simply missing from an activity. Make sure your children know they matter. Check in on them. Learn about their friends, their interests, their fears, their struggles. Celebrate their progress. Acknowledge and celebrate their efforts. Remain actively engaged in their lives.
Second, provide opportunities for them to engage in activities that add meaning to other people’s lives. Such activities can be as simple as mowing the lawn for a shut-in or doing a significant task to maintain the household. Or it may be as complex as volunteering at a homeless shelter, sharing a mission, or becoming active in a social cause. Such activities help our children find their sense of purpose. They help our children discover that they add meaning to other people’s lives through service and seeking the greater good of others.
Third, support their hobbies. Research has discovered that those who engaged in a hobby of interest to them experienced a boost in well-being and a drop in stress and anxiety. Of course, a child’s hobby may also tie in with their purpose. At times, it may even overlap with an “activity that adds meaning to other people’s lives.” Either way, pursuing a hobby boosted well-being and decreased stress and anxiety.
In the long run, what do you really desire for your children? A wall of plaques noting their achievements…or happiness, healthy relationships, and a sense of well-being? Don’t let a goal of achievement become toxic and poison your children, robbing them of happiness, well-being, and healthy relationships. Instead, help them build a life in which they know they matter.
We are born with 100 billion neurons in our brain… and they are hungry to learn. In fact, they thirst for knowledge from the moment we’re born until we pass away. Surprising to some, one of the most powerful ways to feed our brain, to give it the nourishment it needs to grow in knowledge and wisdom, is through play. I’m not talking about adult managed and structured play. No. We’re talking about sensory-experienced play—playing in the mud, splashing water, banging the Tupperware, climbing the tree. This play fills the brain with hands-on, sensory information through touching, hearing, seeing, smelling, tasting, and “propriocepting” (Sorry, I made that word up). We’re also talking about imaginary play (which, by the way, often encompasses these senses). Children’s brains not only hunger and thirst for play, but they also thrive on play. They are wired for play. Literally, they need play in order to grow in a healthy way (see Scientist Reveals Essential Activity That Boosts Child’s Brain Development (newsweek.com)). When immersed in sensory, exploratory play and imaginative play, a child’s “brain starts to… light up with joy as connections between neurons make impressive progress,” according to Dr. Jacqueline Harding (Playful Brains: Early Years Play Shapes Children’s Futures – Neuroscience News). They develop neural pathways that can influence them throughout their lives, even into adulthood.
When we minimize our children’s opportunities to play, we hinder their development. Also, when we “forget to play” or stop playing as adults, we hinder our own continued development and brain health. We become like the adult Peter Pan in “Hook,” joylessly bound to the worries and stresses of adult life. The only way to reignite our joy and to express the full depth of our love for our children and spouse is to regain our sense of play (or, as Toodles learned, our happy thoughts and purpose). Our children need the opportunity to play in order to develop in a healthy manner. Our children also need us to play so we can develop our “happy thoughts” of our lives with them. They need us to play so we can continue to develop in a healthy manner with them. Don’t just let the children play. You play as well. In fact, let the children play. Let yourself play. Let the whole family play… and satisfy your brain’s hunger and thirst for play.
I remember learning a couple important lessons about breathing as a child and teen. I mean, I already knew how to breath. We all do, right? We don’t even have to think about breathing to do it. We know the general importance of breathing; we have to breathe to live. This became especially poignant to me when, on several occasions, water went “down the wrong pipe” while I was swimming, leading to my panicked gasping for air. (Sounds like the panicked gasping for breath people take during Christmas shopping–LOL.) I also remember being taught how to breathe while engaged in various sports. I even remember a friend being so upset that we had to remind them to “breathe…just breathe. Breathe in and let it out slowly.”
That’s the rub, isn’t it? As natural as it is to breathe, we seem to forget to breathe when we get upset, frightened, or angry. Our heart rate increases. Our mind starts to race. No wonder…we need to breathe. Breathing will help bring our heart rate back to normal and allow our minds the freedom to think more rationally rather than simply race to survive.
We encourage one another to breathe when stressed out because breathing helps our bodies manage stress and our “selves” maintain composure. As you can see, the benefits of breathing extend to the whole person. Breathing not only influences our lungs but our cardiovascular system, our neurological system, and even our digestion.
Why do I mention this in regard to family? Because encouraging our family members to “breathe” can reduce stress, improve mental health, reduce and manage symptoms of anxiety, and even lower blood pressure. Breathing can help keep family disagreements civil by lowering everyone’s heart rate, reducing the risk of falling into a state of “fight or flight,” and encouraging more clearheaded hearing and discussion.
Don’t believe it’s true? Try it out. The next time you find yourself in a heated discussion with your spouse, your teen, your toddler, or your parent…step back and take a deep breath. Breathe. Model intentional breathing during any time you find yourself upset or frustrated, angry or fearful. Your family will probably notice and will witness firsthand the benefits for you and for them. You will be pleasantly surprised at the benefit for the whole family.
Let’s face it. We live in a stressful world. Some teens respond to the stresses of life by acting impulsively, seeking immediate rewards over delayed gratification. However, not all adolescents respond to the stresses of life with impulsive behaviors. Some still delay gratification. Why? One of the factors that seems to contribute to whether or not a teen will act impulsively in response to stress is a lack of sleep during late childhood. Isn’t that interesting? Sleep deprivation during late childhood can impact impulsiveness in the teen years. In fact, in a study of 11,858 children from 9-10 years of age, lack of sleep and difficulty falling asleep was strongly associated with impulsive behavior in the teen years. Lack of sleep was also associated with less perseverance and more thrill-seeking behavior in adolescence in this study.
With that in mind, if you want to limit the risk of impulsive behavior in your children’s teen years, establish a healthy bedtime and sleep routine during childhood. What’s involved in a healthy sleep routine?
- Set a consistent bedtime. Going to bed at the same time every night helps the body recognize it is bedtime, time to sleep. This will help your child get a better night’s sleep on a more consistent basis.
- Establish a relaxing bedtime routine. This routine for children might include a warm bath, brushing teeth, and spending time recalling things they enjoyed during the day. If necessary, resolve any incidents that aroused negative emotions during the day. Finally, read a book together. Read your children a story book or, as they get older, let them read to you.
- Help your child “set aside” their worries for the night. If your child has worries that keep them awake, try “giving” their worries to a “worry doll” and putting that doll in another part of the house. Or they can spend a short time writing in a journal, putting all their thoughts and worries on the paper of the journal before “closing it up” and “setting it aside” for the night. Pray together that God will take care of their worries.
- Take all screens out of the bedroom and stop using electronics at least half an hour before bedtime. Screens have an arousing quality. Screens in a bedroom often seem to result in children needing the noise of the screen to fall asleep. No screens in the bedroom.
- Make sure the bedroom is dark and quiet. Maintain a comfortable temperature. Our bodies and minds will relax more easily in a quiet, dark space.
- Avoid emotional discussions or movies before bedtime. Emotional movies and interactions arouse us and interfere with our sleep.
- Give your child a “security object” like a stuffed animal or a soft blanket. This can help increase their sense of security and comfort when they are in their room without a parent.
- Avoid caffeine after supper. Caffeine can have stimulating effects on your child, making it hard for them to go to sleep.
By establishing a healthy bedtime routine with your child, you are doing more than encouraging a good night’s sleep (although that is also a great benefit of a healthy bedtime routine). You are establishing a routine that will impact their emotional health for a lifetime, like increasing their ability to manage stress, decreasing the possibility of excessive amounts of impulsive behaviors in their teen years, and increasing their energy to work toward long-term rewards rather than settling for the more impulsive short-term reward. That sounds like an amazing investment, doesn’t it?